IFB submits regulatory reform suggestions to Corps

Conflicting policies, lack of coordination between agencies among the issues causing problems for farmers, Guebert writes.

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A breach in the Len Small Levee in Alexander County flooded thousands of acres of farmland and covered some fields in sand. After future disasters, repairs should be made in “emergency” mode, IFB President Richard Guebert Jr. wrote to the Army Corps of Engineers this week.

By Deana Stroisch

Federal agencies have lost the balance between promoting a healthy ag sector and protecting the environment, Illinois Farm Bureau’s president wrote to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Executive branch policies appear aimed at restricting farming and conducting enforcement actions with the singular goal of curbing farming in this nation, while exacting as many financial penalties as possible,” Richard Guebert Jr. wrote in a seven-page letter. “Over the last few decades, we have seen a lack of cooperation between these departments and agencies, and conflicting policies, leaving the farmer confused and in some cases, helpless.”

IFB this week submitted Guebert’s letter to the Corps, which like other federal agencies, requested public comment on possible regulatory reforms.

Related: EPA ends 'sue and settle' practice. Click here

Guebert explained how the lack of coordination between agencies has caused problems for Illinois farmers.

He pointed to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Corps, which have different opinions on what farming activities are allowed in federally regulated waters. It’s not uncommon, Guebert wrote, for a farmer to receive written authorization from NRCS to conduct conservation activities only to face Clean Water Act enforcement action from the EPA or Corps.

Guebert also said EPA and the Corps have narrowed the Clean Water Act’s Section 404 exemptions for “normal farming, silviculture and ranching activities” to the point where few benefit.

Other IFB recommendations included:

- Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule. IFB recommended the agencies complete the repeal of WOTUS and propose a revised rule that more closely adheres to the Clean Water Act and Supreme Court decisions. IFB also suggested removing certain language in the definition of WOTUS.

- Flood control and levees. IFB recommended the agencies help with timely repair and maintenance of levees on main rivers in the state, as well as their tributaries. “After a disaster occurs, repairs should be made in ‘emergency’ mode,” Guebert wrote. “This has not been the case in several situations, including most recently with the Len Small Levee in Alexander County, Ill.” The levee district and local farmers have been working since fall 2016 to build a ring levee around a 2,000-foot gap that was created when water broke through, destroying 10,000 to 12,000 acres of farmland and contributing to the submergence of Olive Branch, Guebert wrote.

IFB also recommended the Corps broaden and clarify a permitting exemption to allow routine maintenance of dikes, dams and levees.

- General administrative procedures. IFB recommended the Corps streamline permitting procedures and honor deadlines. IFB also suggested the Corps require its districts and divisions to provide public notice and comment before implementing new guidance of procedures and allow applicants to track the status of applications for permits or other approvals.

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